UNEXPLAINED MYSTERIES

The Exorcist – The True Story Of Roland Doe/Robbie Mannheim

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In 1973, William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel, The Exorcist, was adapted into one of the most successful movies of all time. It told the story of a young girl being possessed by a demon, and believe it or not, it was actually inspired by a real-life incident. In 1949, a 13-year-old boy from Cottage City, Maryland was supposedly possessed by a demon and subject to an exorcism.

To protect his identity, he has only been publicly referred to as “Roland Doe” or “Robbie Mannheim”. After the death of his spiritualist aunt, Roland reportedly became obsessed with using a Ouija board to contact her. Soon afterward, the family’s home was plagued by strange noises and unexplained supernatural activity.The family’s Lutheran minister feared that Roland might be possessed, so two Catholic priests–Father Raymond J. Bishop and Father William J. Bowdern–were brought in to perform an exorcism on him at Georgetown University Hospital.

The exorcism was performed 30 times over the course of several weeks. Roland reportedly exhibited violent behavior and often spoke Latin in a demonic voice while words like “evil” and “hell” mysteriously appeared on his body. After the exorcism was complete, the family experienced no more problems and Roland grew up to live a normal life.

There has been much debate about whether Roland was actually possessed or if a lot of these stories have been fabricated and the boy was merely experiencing psychological problems. Since his true identity is still a secret after all these years, the full truth may never be known.

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Roland Doe – The truth about the movie

With its disturbing focus on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, horror movie The Exorcist has terrified audiences around the world ever since it hit the big screen in 1973.

Yet few realise that the film – and Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name – were inspired by the true story of a months-long exorcism of a 14-year-old boy by Jesuit priests in Missouri in 1949.

The teenager, who was given the pseudonym Roland Doe to protect his identity, was born into a German Lutheran Christian family and initially lived with his parents in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Roland Doe

Father Bishop’s diary of the case includes the following account of Father Bowdern’s involvement, dated 18 March 1949: ‘Next the Fathers began the Litany of the Saints, as indicated in the exorcism ritual. In the course of the Litany, the mattress began to shake.

‘Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to (Roland) his body was badly scratched and branded.

‘The prayers of the exorcism were continued and (Roland) was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of (Roland) had to be held by three men.’

Another entry includes the following passage, dated 11 April 1949: ‘At midnight, the Fathers planned to give (Roland) Holy Communion, but Satan would have no part of it.

‘Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained to (Roland) his body was badly scratched and branded.

‘The word ‘HELLO’ was printed on his chest and thigh. Upon the explanation of the Apostles becoming Priests and receiving Our Lord at the Last Supper, scratches appeared from (Roland) hips to his ankles in heavy lines, seemingly as a protest to Holy Communion.’

At first, the exorcism was hit with repeated failure, with one priest being slashed with a bed spring.

An image of the devil’s face also apparently appeared on Roland’s leg.

But the possession finally came to an end when during the final session the young boy unexpectedly cried out: ‘Satan! I am Saint Michael! I command you to leave this body now!’

After his body went into a violent spasm, he uttered: ‘He is gone!’

Supernatural shock: Roland's first home in Prince George's County, Maryland, where his reported possession began in 1949. His parents said his bed began to shake violently and furniture moved across the room
Supernatural shock: Roland’s first home in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where his reported possession began in 1949. His parents said his bed began to shake violently and furniture moved across the room

It was a front-page article in the Washington Post about the boy’s exorcism that caught the eye of a young William Blatty, then a student at Georgetown University, who would go on to write the best-selling novel The Exorcist in Washington DC in 1971.

The film of the same name followed two years later, but featured the possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother’s desperate and disturbing attempts to win back her child.

After his exorcism, according to Father Bishop’s diary, the boy became ‘a fine young man’

Roland apparently married, raised children and maintained a long and productive career with the US government before retiring, reportedly to suburban Maryland. He has never spoken publicly about the case.

Analysts of Roland Doe’s case in later years believe he likely suffered from a mental health issue such as schizophrenia or Tourette’s Syndrome that was far less understood in the 1940s.

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